Economics of Biophilia – Is Your Commercial Office Space up to Snuff?

Economics of Biophilia – Is Your Commercial Office Space up to Snuff?

By: Janet H Thomas, RID In part II of the Biophilia series we will examine the impact of office space quality on worker productivity. For some businesses direct measures such as number of calls taken or customers served are easily quantifiable and measureable for productivity gains. Less tangible are indirect measures, which include the following:

  • Illness and absenteeism
  • Staff Retention
  • Job Performance (mental stress/fatigue), presenteeism


  • 2010 Us Dept of Labor reported private sector annual absenteeism rate of 3% per headcount, roughly 62 hours lost per year.
  • Public sector rate is 4%, over 83 hours per headcount.
  • University of Oregon study (Elzeyadi, 2011) 30% of office space overlooks trees, 31% overlooks a street, building, parking lot; 39% are interior with no outside view. Average sick leave was determined as:
  • With views to nature – 57 hours sick leave
  • No view – 68 hours sick leave
  • Urban view fell in between
  • Lighting quality and window area created a 10% variance by virtue of being architectural elements.
  • Neurological restraint instructs the brain not to be distracted or stimulated by other tasks or items, draining much energy in the process. Where focus is hard to achieve, stress slows the heart rate and breathing while arousing digestion to increase energy levels. The combination lowers concentration and effectiveness.
  • Nature renews our attention, stimulating effective responses and jump starting cognitive functioning.

Main causes for deficient productivity are absenteeism, loss of focus, negative mood and poor health. American psychologists have identified 5 top requirements for basic functioning:

  • Need for change in temperature, air, light, etc.
  • Ability to act on their environment and observe effects
  • Meaningful stimulation to prevent onset of chronic stress
  • Sense of territorial ownership to integrate safety, identity and protection
  • Views to the outside world

Presenteeism Presenteeism is best defined as being physically present but not mentally focused. It is primarily caused by lack of sleep, headaches, colds and asthma.

  • Private sector cost $938/yr
  • Public sector cost $1250/yr
  • Access to natural day lighting, outdoor views and natural ventilation reduces eyestrain, relieves mental fatigue and increases worker attention span.
  • Green space within an office area also increases productivity.

The Impact of Biophilia: Sacramento Municipal Utility Call Center installed large operable windows and re-arranged workstations so all had views to the outside. Cost per employee was $1,000 but the productivity gain of 6-7% total calls handled generated revenue of nearly three times that per employee. The initial investment was covered in 4 months. Bank of America Tower in Manhattan integrated Biophilia for employee attraction and retention. Extensive daylight, views to parks, green roofs and/or rivers for 90% of employees, wooden floor and ceiling designs and stone detailing with high fossil count all appeal to employees and recruits. Additionally these elements reduce levels of hormonal and cranial stress that decrease coronary heart disease contributing to improved employee health and reduced health care costs. ING Bank in Amsterdam maximized natural lighting, and introduced organic art and water features to enhance worker satisfation. Absenteeism reduced by 15%. ING’s new image was viewed by customers as progressive and their numbers grew, bumping ING from 4th pace to 2nd place in popularity in the Netherlands. Clearly the benefit to businesses and employees when nature is included in the workplace environment begs the question is your Commercial office space up to snuff? All data cited from ‘The Economics of Biophilia’ by Terrapin Bright Green and was published on the Interface Reconnect website. Terrapin Bright Green improves the human environment by helping clients break new ground on creatively addressing environmental opportunities.   Photo by Frits Alhefeldt

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